After another abysmal night for Pittsburgh Pirates’ center fielder Andrew McCutchen that saw him go 0-for-5 and leave a small village on the base paths, the Pittsburgh Pirates may have gone past the point of waiting for McCutchen to bounce back from a bad 2016 season.
Instead, they must realize that Andrew McCutchen isn’t in a slump.
As painful as this is to say, because I love everything McCutchen brings to the city of Pittsburgh, McCutchen just simply isn’t a good baseball player right now.
He’s performing under replacement level with a -0.1 WAR and there is nothing about him at the plate right now that would suggest a turnaround is coming anytime soon.
Quite simply, McCutchen has hit rock bottom in his career.
When the likes of John Jaso and others are out producing a former MVP, something is clearly wrong.
McCutchen promised a monster season this year after struggling in 2016. At this point, the Pirates would be happy with an occasional productive game.
Is there any hope to turn things around?
Ugly, Ugly, Ugly
McCutchen sits here on May 24, posting a .200/.271/.359 slash line. A whopping .630 OPS from your three-hole hitter is a big reason why the Pirates are sitting in last place in a bad division. Every number McCutchen shows in his stat line this season represents a career low.
The numbers look even worse when you look at the month of May. In the past 21 games, McCutchen sports a .160/.225/.298 line. Yes, he is slugging just .298 in the past three weeks.
McCutchen has also been terrible on the road where he has just hit .173, although five of his six homers have come away from PNC Park.
It’s also not a case of bad luck either as he sports just a .214 BABIP.
As hard as it is to say, McCutchen has been the worst player in a Pirates uniform this season.
Can’t Catch Up
The only semi-positive thing McCutchen has done this season is post a .333/.429/.738 line against southpaws. Four of his six homers have also come against left-handed pitching
Against right-handed pitching he has been abysmal with a .156/.216/.234 line.
If we look closer, the biggest problem is McCutchen is struggling against the fastball.
He’s hitting just .158 against power fastballs and just .159 against guys who sport a league average fastball. Those are guys who he used to feast on. Now every right-handed pitcher in the league owns him.
McCutchen clearly isn’t seeing the fastball well and until he does, he is going to continue to struggle.
After leaving seven guys on base Tuesday night in Atlanta, McCutchen is hitting just .211 with runners in scoring position and has grounded into seven double plays already.
Yet, Clint Hurdle is going to keep penciling his name into the No. 3 spot in the batting order where he is going to continue to kill rallies until he gets straightened out.
Late in games, seventh inning or later, when your superstar is expected to deliver, McCutchen is hitting just .125 on the season. In high leverage situations he is hitting just .188.
Those are situations McCutchen used to thrive in. Right now he is a liability in those same spots.
At times in his career, McCutchen has had to try to carry this team on his back and he has succeeded doing so.
Hurdle can’t bench McCutchen. He has to pencil him in every night.
With guys on base, he is trying to make up for a bad start to the season in one swing, instead of just trying to make good contact at bat per at bat.
The result is pulling a lot of fastballs and rolling over them.
McCutchen has 170 at bats on the season and has only hit 24 line drives. He’s hit the ball on the ground 61 times, hit a fly ball 51 times and struck out 34. We are used to seeing him rip line drives all over the field. Now it is a rare occurrence when he hits the ball solid.
He also isn’t seeing the ball well as his walk numbers have seen a huge drop in the past couple of years.
In 2015 McCutchen had a walk rate of 14 percent. That dipped to 10 percent last season and is under 9 percent now. That could be that opposing pitchers aren’t afraid to attack McCutchen lately, but it’s also a case of expanding his zone a bit and not being the same patient hitter he was before.
He’s pressing and it has had a negative effect.
What to Do?
Hurdle can’t bench Andrew McCutchen. He has to pencil him in every night.
If there were other options than maybe, but he can’t play Danny Ortiz and Jaso in the outfield every night. Hurdle has to sink or swim with McCutchen.
He has to let McCutchen work his way out of it.
In basketball shooters shoot their way out of a slump. In baseball, hitters have to hit their way out of a funk.
What Hurdle can do is drop McCutchen in the order.
There aren’t many better options to pencil in the No. 3 spot, but McCutchen is killing the Pirates right now.
Drop him down to the sixth spot and maybe that will take some pressure off or possibly light a fire under him.
Either way, the Pittsburgh Pirates are stuck with McCutchen’s slump.
There were a whole faction of Pirates fans who in the offseason promised to jump ship when the team traded McCutchen. That group has been awfully quiet now. McCutchen has no trade value at all.
The Pirates are married to him for the time being. They can only cross their fingers that he figures something out at the plate which helps bring the old McCutchen back.
As bad as the fans want to see McCutchen get hot, so does McCutchen.
It’s no fun taking the field every night knowing you’ve hit rock bottom.
Image Credit – Daniel Decker Photography